The impact of Europe’s leading newspapers on citizens’ perception of the upcoming election’s relevance is not to be underestimated. A quick, and non-exhaustive, overview of the debate in the national press allows grasping enthusiasm but also frustration few days before of the vote.
The EU is not alone
For Austria’s biggest newspaper Die Presse, the European elections are to be considered as crucial as they will decide no less than “how the European Union, the largest economic community in the world, positions itself in a globalised world”. The daily believes that the question of how to regulate financial markets in order to support the real economy will be a determining aspect of the vote.
If Die Presse underlines the importance of adapting to a globalised world, the Italian daily La Stampa remarks that the EU’s active role in shaping world affairs has been ignored in the electoral campaign. “This is truly paradoxical”, it observes. “At a time when borders are only theoretical […] the important opportunity to involve Europe’s citizens in an open debate about the Union’s role in the world is being missed.”
This critic may not apply to the Danish daily Berlingske, which hopes that citizens will resist Eurosceptic Cassandras and show by their vote “how important a strong EU is”, especially considering that Presidential elections take place concurrently in Ukraine. It calls Europeans to work together, “if our belief in the principles of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of minorities are to prevail in the world”.
Eurosceptics and abstention
However, other media consider that Eurosceptics have already achieved their goal. The Spanish Periódico de Catalunya shares the view that “what matters is not how many seats they win in the European Parliament, but that these forces are already changing the agendas of the mainstream parties”, which, it argues, progressively include discriminatory and xenophobic content in their programmes.
Furthermore, the Dutch De Volkskrant observes that the goal of forming an alliance is transforming far right parties, such as Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom which now radicalises its stance by turning to openly anti-Semitic parties as allies. More reinsuring, Croatia’s Jutarnji List believes that the unbridgeable gaps between Western and Eastern European far-right parties will make the targeted alliance impossible.
Simultaneously to concerns on the rise of Eurosceptic parties, abstention is also taken up by European press commentators. On one hand, the Romanian online portal Hotnews considers that boycotting elections is contra-productive in order to “punish the fossilised system”. On the other hand, the Slovenian daily Delo argues that the widespread disinterest in elections is proof that Western democracy has reached its limits and calls, provocatively, to elect politicians by casting lots: “In a society where technology is developing at such a rapid pace, why are we afraid of new approaches? Why do we cling to organisational forms which […] are archaic and primitive?”
Hoping for politicization
Far from defending ground-breaking solutions, the French daily Libération believes that populism and abstention may be best tackled if “pro-Europeans on the left and the right […] speak up once more and present clear alternatives”. The organised debates between “Spitzenkandidaten” appointed by the European party federations may allow for this desired politicization. If some, such as the Spanish online news portal El Diario, welcome the election of the Commission president “via the European Parliament” at the light of the “lack of a genuine political union”, others remain sceptic about the effective automaticity of this step. This is the case of the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, which argues that generally “a candidate can be sure that he will govern if he wins the election”, but that “doesn’t apply to Europe”, pointing at the power of the European Council, which may deceive expectations.
The question of citizens’ influence through their vote may indeed be at the heart of concerns not only at the European but also at the national level. Even if the campaign for the European elections has triggered simultaneous debates in the national public spheres on the challenges facing the EU, the question remains however if it has led to a higher identification of citizens with particular objectives to be reached at the European decision-making level, for which to cast their much expected vote.
This press review has been drafted with free material provided by Eurotopics, an online portal presenting every day and in three languages what Europe thinks.
Sergio Marx is journalist and student at the College of Europe, Natolin Campus.